By Midge Pierce
Add “diverter” to a meeting agenda in SE Portland and tension and attendance rise especially if the diverter is at the junction of neighborhoods with vastly different perspectives.
The proposed diverter at SE 50th and Lincoln is a major flashpoint. After rancorous meetings in which pro-diverter bicyclists squared off against anti-diverter residents, Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) modified plans for the Lincoln-Harrison Greenway to utilize what it calls an interim median-style barrier to allow neighborhood connectivity from 50th at Lincoln and right turns only from Lincoln.
The new plan calls for adding eight speed bumps to upper Hawthorne which will likely become a more heavily trafficked alternative route, as will Division St. along a stretch that includes an elementary and high school.
PBOT claims the diverter is needed to manage burgeoning mobility needs as the City grows, but the diverter is not the only concern of Richmond neighbors. During a Richmond neighborhood association presentation by PBOT, striping, bike buttons and the impact of detours onto extremely narrows streets such as SE 26th were raised.
PBOT representative Roger Geller spoke of ways to make what he termed short “trip gaps” without vehicles. An objective is to make cycling and other modes easier, safer and more equitable. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce the estimated 500,000 additional vehicle trips.
Greenways are an important part of improving the network, Geller said. “Cycling is a very cost effective investment.”
At a SE Uplift meeting, chair and bicycle-enthusiast Terry Dublinski-Milton, (outspoken advocate for the bikeway that runs from 60th to Ladds Circle) said the diverter at SE 50th is needed because the Greenway is one of the poorest performing in the City. He says solutions must serve the region, not just locals.
Residents of Mt. Tabor claim the area lacks East-West blocks that, in other neighborhoods, provide alternate routes to and from homes. The result, they claim, will be increases in dangerous car-bike interactions, blockages at failing intersections and significant traffic squeezes onto Division and Hawthorne.
To counter the impact on Hawthorne, the new plan includes four speed bumps between SE 50th and 55th – a corridor neighbors say already feels unsafe and routinely stressed by traffic counts that surpass its intended usage and expectations. Four more bumps would be positioned between 55th and 60th.
Another aspect of the plan is a three to six month monitoring period to determine the impact of the interim diverter. PBOT says it will evaluate vehicle volumes and speeds on streets near the diverter.
Holding PBOT accountable for accurate and trustworthy data is a priority for Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association Landuse Co-chair Stephanie Stewart.
Facing down challenges to MTNA’s representation of the community at a NA meeting, Stewart stressed that the Association’s intention was to share residents’ concerns with PBOT and ensure that the Mt. Tabor portion of the Greenway was safe for “all ages and abilities.”
“This is not a denial of the whole greenway,” she explained. “MTNA has not taken a formal position.”
Stewart called for clear metrics from PBOT that would include data collected when Atkinson and Franklin schools are in session, She also suggested neighbors use the three to six month interim period as an opportunity to discuss design alternatives.
Options might include establishing two dedicated bike lanes. Lincoln’s estimated 2,500 cars a day may be just shy of the 3,000 the City requires for this type of Tier 2 design.
Members of MTNA are frustrated that PBOT has been reluctant to meet with them, while four PBOT representatives including manager Sheila Parrot were featured at the RNA meeting. Richmond residents deemed the group break out format an effective way to, as one jokingly said, keep “the violence down.”
Greenway improvements are slated to begin this spring.
Anti-diverter residents fear the lack of east-west streets in the corridor will lock them into their neighborhoods with no easy routes out.
A pro-diverter resident retorted, “I’m willing to sacrifice a little time if it saves lives.”
One visibly shaken resident seeking MTNA support for loss of safe disability parking and access to her home on the corner of Lincoln and 50th, expressed fear about how ugly the situation had turned.
She said she had been maligned online by the pro-diverter community and was threatened by a “snooper” on her property following a Richmond meeting.
PBOT claims the modified plan shows it is listening. To whom it is listening remains the question.